Memo from ‘M’, for your eyes only: the new April, 2020, edition of the BBC History magazine has an article by espionage expert Henry Hemming, which explores the possible real-life inspirations behind the lead characters in Ian Fleming’s 007 novels, including James Bond himself.

Designed to help celebrate what was originally going to be the April release date for No Time To Die (which has now been postponed until November this year), the new article first of all describes the impact of Fleming’s iconic spy: ‘Bond is a phenomenon. It is rare to find a fictional character so intricately woven into one country’s self-image, and at the same time so hugely popular around the world’.

As Hemming points out, ‘Bond’s extraordinary popularity is rooted in the world – and the characters – Fleming created…’.

But these characters were, in Hemming’s view, not just pulled out of thin air: they were an amalgam of traits that Fleming ‘borrowed’ from a colourful cast of personalities he encountered in his own life. As Fleming himself noted, ‘Everything I write has a precedent in truth’.

Bond, James Bond

The article then provides some background on Fleming’s creation of the character of James Bond, whose name was taken from the American ornithologist James Bond, author of Birds of the West Indies. Name aside, and apart from some of Fleming’s own habits and tastes being given to 007, the physical appearance and characteristics of secret agent James Bond were partly influenced by some of the real-life intrepid soldiers and spies that Fleming encountered during his time working in Naval Intelligence during World War Two.

These included the fearless Patrick Dalzel-Job (pictured), a member of the special Naval commando assault unit, 30 Assault Unit, created by Ian Fleming; Fleming’s own dashing brother, Peter, who took part in wartime covert operations; and the British spy and expert skier Conrad O’Brien-ffrench, who became a friend of Fleming in Austria before the war.

Two other possible candidates for the men who inspired Fleming’s fictional Bond were Sir Fitzroy Maclean, who was in the Special Air Service (SAS), and Wilfred Dunderdale, the dashing MI6 Head of Station in Paris in the very early stages of the war.

Turning to other key characters created by Fleming for the James Bond books, Hemming explores the possible real-life inspirations for James Bond’s boss ‘M’, the lovably eccentric quartermaster ‘Q’, and M’s ever-loyal secretary Miss Moneypenny.

Candidates for people who may have influenced Fleming’s creation of ‘M’ include Admiral John Godfrey (Fleming’s own boss in wartime Naval Intelligence); for ‘Q’, a leading influence was possibly Charles Fraser-Smith, who devised ingenious gadgets for the Special Operations Executive (SOE) during the war; and for Moneypenny, Hemming suggests the most likely model was Kathleen Pettigrew, secretary to the head of MI6 during the war.

Hemming also provides a fascinating section on the possible candidates who inspired Fleming’s major Bond villains, including Blofeld, Le Chiffre, Hugo Drax, Goldfinger and Scaramanga. Did you know, for example, that Le Chiffre may have been based on the notorious occultist Aleister Crowley? All in all, this is another great magazine to have for both Fleming and Bond aficionados.

BBC History magazine, April 2020, is available to purchase for £5.50 UKP at retailers in the UK or can be ordered online. Stay with us for further James Bond news as it develops: you know the name, and you know the number.

Ian Fleming during his time in Naval Intelligence